Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Eye of the Storm was White’s ninth novel; in the same year in which it was published, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It shares the length and complexity of its precursor, The Vivisector (1970), and, like the earlier novel, concentrates on the considerable talents of one main character. A Fringe of Leaves (1976), which followed The Eye of the Storm, also focuses on a central female character who loses and then finds herself as the result of a storm and a sojourn on an island off the coast of Australia. Unlike Theodora Goodman of The Aunt’s Story (1948) and Mary Hare of Riders in the Chariot (1961), Ellen Roxburgh of A Fringe of Leaves and Elizabeth Hunter of The Eye of the Storm are women of strong heterosexual appetite who relish every kind of experience. Elizabeth, however, remains unique as the selfish, domineering mother figure, although echoes of her are also found in Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray of Memoirs of Many in One (1986).

The Eye of the Storm remains an outstanding example of White’s virtuosity as a writer. The novel is intricately composed, ranging freely among the various characters’ consciousnesses, through different locations, and from past to present time. Style changes with point of view, and White introduces a variety of literary techniques: He is particularly deft at creating dream sequences for Elizabeth and for Basil. The book’s triumph, though, is that its central character remains sympathetic despite her obviously unpleasant traits. With The Vivisector and The Eye of the Storm, White firmly established his position as an epic novelist. Critics were almost unanimous in their praise for the two novels, which, they believed, signaled the coming of age of Australian literature.